Thursday, April 24, 2008

WaPo Journos Discuss News Biz, Election

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday, in a modest add-on in Howard Kurtz's Style section media column, that Susan Glasser, who has been assistant managing editor for national news, has been kicked upstairs. Kurtz wrote:

Susan Glasser, who directed The Washington Post's campaign coverage as assistant managing editor for national news, said yesterday she is leaving that job to work on a project for Post Co. Chief Executive Donald Graham.

Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. decided to remove Glasser after a high-level committee of editors concluded that her aggressive management style had led to a serious decline in staff morale. The timing, in the middle of the campaign, was unusual.

Meanwhile, Washingtonian magazine's blog reports that Glasser's husband, political reporter Peter Baker, may be leaving, too:
It is unclear whether Glasser, 39, will remain at the Post. It has been rumored that her husband, Peter Baker, who currently covers the White House for the Post, might be moving to the New York Times.
Early in March, I had an opportunity to see both Glasser and Baker speak at the annual meeting of the Virginia Electoral Board Association. They had been invited by VEBA president Maggi Luca, who knew Baker from his days as a reporter in the Post's Fairfax County bureau.

I had my video camera handy and recorded the whole presentation. Much of the discussion focused on the upcoming Democratic primaries in Texas and Ohio and whether Hillary Rodham Clinton would be able to survive them to go on to contest Pennsylvania. (We know how that turned out.)

One of the most interesting things said was by Baker, during some comments about how the Internet is affecting journalism. He said that the person who determines the most important story in the Washington Post is not Len Downie or any other editor on the Post's staff who might decide what goes on the front page, but rather Matt Drudge. He gave, as an example, an article he wrote that had been placed deep into the paper's A-section, but because Drudge linked to it, it had something like 250,000 hits -- or more than ten times as many hits as the front-page stories in the Post that day received.

I apologize for the poor video quality. The meeting room in the Homestead was lit quite dimly, and I was sitting near the back of the room (in an effort to be courteously unobtrusive).

By the way, when Maggi makes the claim in her introduction that Peter Baker was the first reporter to move from the Washington Times to the Washington Post, she is incorrect; that person was, in fact, Malcolm Gladwell, who later became a staff writer the New Yorker, and the best-selling author of The Tipping Point and Blink. (I knew Gladwell when we both worked at the Ethics and Public Policy Center; he left EPPC to work at the Times and it was big news when he was hired away from the upstart by the Post.)

For his part, Baker makes a historical error himself, when in Part II he claims that you have to "go all the way back to Monroe" -- 180 years -- before you can find the same political party holding the White House three terms in a row, except for Reagan-Bush. Even granting that FDR doesn't count because he was the same person who served four terms in row, what about Grant, Hayes, Garfield/Arthur? That's four terms in a row from 1869 through 1885. And then there was McKinley, Roosevelt, and Taft (1897-1913); that was followed by the Wilson interregnum and then Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover (1921-1933).

In Part III, Glasser talks about how the Internet "explodes" our notions about how elections should be run -- not only in how journalists report campaigns, but in how candidates raise money, and in how voters will turn out on Election Day. (She mentions how countries like Estonia already permit voting through the Internet, and how this may be the edge of a trend that will reach us eventually.)

In Part VI, Baker says the Democratic party would be "ripped apart" if the superdelegates end up handing the nomination to Hillary Clinton while Barack Obama wins the most states, the popular vote, and the most elected delegates. Letting the superdelegates exercise their discretion, he suggests, is "too divisive an alternative."

Also in Part VI, Glasser notes how these are "tough times" for the newspaper business, with the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Washington Post all offering buy-outs to their employees, in an effort to cut costs and improve profitability. By mentioning the "democratization of information" and the "power of collective thinking," she invites her husband's comment about the inordinate influence of Matt Drudge. Glasser says that "Google News is by far the producer of news on the Internet ... they have built a sophisticated and super-secret algorithm" for aggregating news, which undermines the value of the local morning newspaper. (Baker's remark about the Drudge Report comes in Part VII, at 03:08.)

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

Part IV:

Part V:

Part VI:

Part VII:

This presentation by the husband-and-wife, reporter-and-editor team of Peter Baker and Susan Glasser was entertaining and informative, even provocative. Although this event took place almost two months ago, much of the material they present is still relevant (even within the context of the primary election campaign, and especially with regard to the changing nature of the news business).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rick correctly calls me on my gaffe during the Virginia presentation. I got some historical fun facts confused. What I meant to say was that you have to go back to Monroe to find the last time we had three consecutive two-term presidents (Jefferson, Madison and Monroe), which does not bode well for whoever wins this year's presidential race. As for political parties keeping the White House, what I should have said is that Americans have only kept the same party in the Oval Office for a third consecutive term once since World War II (when George H.W. Bush was elected in 1988). Sorry for the error. Appreciate Rick giving me the opportunity to correct it and apologize. Best, Peter Baker